realizing I needed more quiet space
in my life, more time to just be
with God, I ran into (read: collided with) reality. We’re a family of five living in--let’s call it--a modest space: a two bedroom, one bath apartment of just over 950 sq. ft.
On the days when I’m feeling particularly European, it’s really no problem. We’ve found our rhythm and have simply learned to not accumulate stuff. Still when you’re looking for space to be alone and it’s the dead of winter, it can be challenging.
The conventional wisdom would be to simply wake up earlier than anyone else and “have the house to yourself.” The only problem is that no one informed my children of conventional wisdom. Instead they have an eerie sixth sense that tells them the minute I’m awake and there is the definite possibility of either a) extra cuddles or b) early breakfast. Regardless, I’ve never had much success
with the getting up early approach.
But one morning soon after I had committed to finding more quiet space, I woke up surprisingly early and well-rested. “Well,”
I said to myself, “this must be it. God is leading in this process even before I get started. The children are still asleep, I’m awake, and it’s just likely that I might sneak a few minutes alone with Him.”
But then came the next hurdle. Where to go? The living room is right next to the kid’s bedroom which heightened the possibility of waking them; and if I set myself up in the kitchen, all my projects and work
for the day would sit there glaring back at me. Somehow the bathroom just didn’t seem appropriate (regardless of what they say about every bush being a burning bush or all ground being holy ground), and my husband was still asleep in bed.
And then I had an inspiration – the closet!
So, true confession: because I had no other option, I quietly slipped out of bed and ducked into my closet. Now, I’ve heard of "prayer closets" before. Jesus spoke about them in context of praying privately
and many heroes of the faith, including Jonathan Edwards and George Mueller, apparently used them. I just never really understood it as literally as I did that morning.
But in that closet, in the darkness, I was cut off from the world. There were no to-do lists, no children, no excuses– nothing that could distract me from what I really needed to do which was simply sit and talk with God. And it turns out that the smallness of a closest is perfect for that. For me at least, the closeness somehow created a feeling of intimacy and the darkness soothed me. It was almost like taking an overactive child into your arms, holding him close, and whispering tenderness into his ear. Instantly my spirit
was calm and content.
Of course, it didn’t last long. My “hiding place” was a little too perfect--within 15 minutes I heard my husband pacing back and forth throughout the apartment, turning on lights, and opening doors as if he were looking for something. Turns out, he was looking for me. But it’s a starting place. And it’s a place—despite the shoes and sweaters and clothes draping down—to be alone. A place to be alone with Him.
Over seven and half years ago, we brought our first child home from the hospital—an enchanting little girl with her father’s brown eyes and her mother’s strong opinions. In the ensuing years, we added a quieter, contemplative blue-eyed brother, and a roly-poly, enthusiastic baby brother. The combination has resulted in a home overflowing with laughter, unabated joy, and countless emotional meltdowns.
And while we’ve gained so much, we’ve lost one thing: Quiet.
To quote the photo I posted
a couple of days ago, “In this home, we do loud REALLY well.” Add to that a digital age of Facebook, email, cell phones, texting and Twitter, and life here in these four walls is pretty much a constant buzz. Occasionally I feel like my five-year-old son when he simply can’t handle it all anymore. He clamps his hands on his ears, his elbows jutting out perpendicular to his body, and yells, “Be quiet – it’s too noisy!”
So a couple of days ago when I slipped away for a 24-hour hiatus
, it was bliss. But it was also something else I hadn’t counted on: it was awkward.
As soon as I shut the door behind me, as soon as I was alone in the silence, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. My hands twitched as if needing motion to justify their existence; my mind whirled trying to think of all the things I should be doing, and then it somersaulted backwards, whirling in the other direction as I tried to stop
thinking of about all the things I should be doing.
I quickly realized that in the chaotic joy of the last seven years I had lost the ability to be quiet. It was actually hard for me to be still. And it wasn’t just being still that was difficult.
One thing that I had hoped to do during this time away was to read and pray. While I’ve had to learn new ways to commune with God in this busy period of life, I miss the freedom of simply sitting down, relaxing, and giving myself completely over to Him.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to engage in prayer without half-listening in the background for “Mommy, I need….” – it’s as if I’ve been "on call" for the last seven years. I haven’t felt guilty about it – life naturally cycles through different stages and just like any relationship, my ability to spend intimate time with God fluctuates too. I take great comfort in this caveat by the notable Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He was frustrated with a group of medical students who complained that they didn’t have time for personal time with God. His response was brusque:
“I make only one exception: the mother of preschool-aged children does not have time and emotional resources.”
“I am a doctor. I have been where you are. You have time for what you want to do.” After a long pause he said,
What do I say now? What am I supposed to do? Are You going to start this or should I? I’m so used to finding You in the busyness, that I don’t quite know how to find to you in the quiet.
I was still thinking about it several days later, fidgeting in my spirit, anxious about my anxiety, when the Holy Spirit stopped me and seemed simply to say, “You know, people who love each other don’t always have to talk. Sometimes, it’s just nice to sit and be quiet together. Why don’t we try that first?”
This week we entered the Lenten season, the time committed to reflection, self-denial, and quiet devotion leading up to Easter. Most Christians who celebrate Lent do so by giving up something, denying themselves a particular luxury in order to more fully identify with Christ’s self-denial in coming to earth. But this year, instead of giving something up, I’m going to try to reclaim something. I’m going to try to find the quiet places again. I’m going to practice being still.
I’m not sure what form it will end up taking—it will probably be less exegetical Bible study and more quiet contemplation—but I know that it will challenge me in places I haven’t been for years. But having reached my point of sensory overload, it will be welcome. So if you’re like me, feel free to join in. Feel free to clamp your hands on your ears and yell, “Be quiet!” And maybe then, we’ll all remember how to be still, and in being still, we'll know Him once again.
And so it has been with me. But even when I was given the time, I found that it had been so long, so incredibly long, that when I alone in the room with Him, I was shy, awkward, uncertain, almost embarrassed.
Courtesy of the fabulous JoyM (soon to be JoyG)
It might be that I was finally bottoming out from the adrenalin rush of the holidays, my New Year’s inspirations had reach their last fizzle and pop, or I was at my limit of small children cooped up for one month too long. It probably was a combination of all of them. Call it the winter blues, but these last dreary days before spring are always hard for me. I find myself exhausted, drained, and generally out of sorts.
My husband is quick to pick up on it—usually after the third night in a row that we’ve had hot dogs for supper—and so this weekend, he came home from work, packed me up, and shipped me off to a guest bedroom in a friend’s basement. My instructions: to sleep, read, and most importantly rest.
It was quiet, dark, and cool. It was lovely.
We human beings sure have a hard time taking a hint. Winter is the perfect time to hibernate. But instead, while the earth around us is shutting down and going dormant, most of us (myself included) actually insist on INCREASING our productivity. Shorter day-light hours? No problem, we’ve got Day Light Savings Time and electricity. Cold weather that invites you to snuggle up in a blanket and read? Nope, got a heat-pump for that one. Now get up and be industrious. Bad road conditions that any sensible being would take as a sign from God to stay inside? Snow plows, four-wheel drive, and tire chains.
We’re really just like children.
One of the infuriating ironies of parenting is that children simply don’t know how to rest. After those first new born days of sleeping for what seems like 24 hours in a row, they come out of hibernation and no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to convince them to go back. This world is just too interesting, mommy is too warm and snugly, and feeding is too satisfying to be interrupted by sleep. Even if we can eventually get them on some kind of healthy sleep rhythm, when they get a couple years older, they inevitably fight bedtime and wake at ridiculously inhumane hours asking for breakfast.
You’d think that something as inviting, as refreshing, as sweet as rest wouldn’t be so hard to pass up.
But it is. And it is one of the very first things that we adults abandon in our self-sufficient quest for productivity and success. So much so, that God Himself--who doesn’t actually need rest – had to model it for us in case we missed the point. (Which we did.) From the seventh day of Creation, to the Sabbath mandates of the Old Testament, to the promises of eternal rest, our Father has been on a quest to teach His children how to sleep through the night. And just like our children, we have resisted Him, confident that there are better things to see and do in this world than rest.
But just like our children without proper sleep, when we refuse to take His cues about our limitations, we become cranky, out of sorts and nearly impossible to deal with. And just like our children when they become that way, the best thing to do for them is to impose nap time--to force them to rest. So if, like I was, you’re feeling that generally displaced moodiness that comes so often this time of year, maybe it’s time you found a guest bedroom in a friend’s basement. (You can drop your kids off at my house on the way.) Turn off the lights, cuddle up under the covers, and do what your Father has been trying to get you to do along. Rest in Him.
I've just emerged from a husband-imposed, 24-hour period of hibernation.
It's hard when 1) you blog, 2) it's a holiday, 3) you have an obsessive personality that NEEDS things to come together in nice packages, and 4) you have writer's block. Today's that day. And try as I might to come up with a neat, heart-warming, tear-jerking post for Valentine's Day, it simply wasn't going to happen. So around 3:30, I gave up and decided to do something perhaps even more romantic, something that would shout "I love you," something that would communicate my undying affection to my husband: I cleaned the house and made dinner.And after all that, I saw this: it's a story of love, a story of faithfulness, a story of life taking a different turn than you thought. And ultimately it's a story about a good God who despite our best promises to Him, knows what we really need and sometimes releases us
from our vows to Him because He has better plans for us than we had for ourselves.
won’t be held for ransom by some fifteen-year-old in his bedroom who has more tech savvy in his little finger than I have in my whole body.)
Now the first thing that many of you will be thinking, smart readers that you are, is “Why in heaven’s name did you wait until now? Why didn’t you simply set it on automatic renewal from the very beginning?”
I wish I could give you a good answer for that, but I can’t. I can on the other hand give you a simple one: fear.
When you put yourself out there, when you take your “darlings”
and present them to other people, you can’t help but be gripped by the possibility that they won’t like them. Or worse, that they simply won’t care. Because as harsh as it sounds, not everyone thinks your baby is as adorable as you do. So I suppose, seven months ago, I was simply hedging my bets and figured that if things went badly, I could quietly fade into the oblivion of the web. And we could all pretend like none of this ever happened.
But honestly, there was something that I hadn’t counted on, something that, in my self-centeredness, I had forgotten. I had forgotten that this—that writing—may not be my dream alone. That like any dream deep in our hearts--whether it’s art or engineering or bird watching—it didn’t started with us. It was placed there by our Creator. I had forgotten that “my”
dream really is His
dream, He's just gracious enough to share it with me.
And when you factor that into the equation, fear dissolves.
When you factor that into the equation, you experience what I have over the last seven months--pursuing His dreams for you leads to better things than you could ever have anticipated. It leads to joy, to tears, to friends, old and new. Better still, it leads you right back to Him.
So don't work out of your fears by simply giving yourself fully, unreservedly to a dream; work out of them by giving yourself fully, unreservedly--unbelievably--to a better Dreamer than you’ll ever hope to be. And for goodness' sakes, hit "automatic renewal."
This last week was milestone of sorts for me. With fear and trembling, I changed the setting on my website provider from manual renewal to “automatic renewal.” This simply means that in a few months when my domain name comes up, I won’t forget about it among the laundry, dirty dishes, and general chaos we like to call “life.” (It also means that the address
Big, brown, eager, expectant eyes. Eyes that melt a daddy’s heart.
Now, I wouldn’t say that my husband plays favorites, but that--just like any daddy who loves his daughter--he has a particular weakness toward her and those brown eyes. And she, as a result, has a particular confidence and boldness that comes, not from being spoiled, but from knowing his love.
This confidence is a beautifully engaging thing. She comes to him, climbs into his lap at no invitation, and draws him into her world of fairy princesses and delightful impossibilities. She knows no fear, no boundaries, no limits to his acceptance. And why should she? Isn’t this the man who comforts her, carries her on his strong shoulders, and works to fulfill her needs? Isn’t this the man who rescues her from bugs, big dogs, her brothers, and thunderstorms? Even his correction confirms that she belongs to him.
But I’ve seen others who do not have this confidence. Girls and women who are sometimes shy and awkward and other times angry and defensive--often an inscrutable mix of both. Women whose girlish eyes never moved their daddies’ hearts, whose pleading eyes made no difference, whose tears one day simply ran dry--emptied, drained, exhausted. Women who would give anything in the world to have the kind of eyes my daughter does.
But then maybe they do. Maybe we all do.
While it’s easy for us to focus on the roles we play, we must not forget that none of us ever became wife, sister, aunt, teacher, mother or confidante without first being a daughter.Without first being His daughter. I don’t mean this in a primarily academic, theological way. I mean it the way C.H. Spurgeon did when teased his wife Susannah after she had received something she had been secretly praying for. He said, “I think you are one of your Heavenly Father’s spoiled children, and He just gives you whatever you ask for.”
What if you could know, believe, and embrace that reality? The reality that the Father has drawn you to Himself, wrapped His arms around you, looked deeply into your eyes and said, “I love you.” That your Father has chosen you to be His daughter and has moved heaven and earth to make that a reality. That He is a good loving Father who can’t ignore your pleading eyes.
Few of us can imagine this. Fewer of us are crazy enough to believe it. But for those of us who do, this father-love births a deeply rooted, flourishing confidence that comes when you know you’re loved. It’s a confidence that lets you climb into your daddy’s lap uninvited and share your dreams. It’s a confidence that lets you pursue those dream with Him as your guide. And it’s a confidence that explodes when you realize that your daddy is as delighted in your fairy princess kingdom as you are.
She has those big brown eyes. Mine are blue-green and never quite certain which they want to be. Blue-green eyes aren’t any good for begging; brown eyes were made for it. And my daughter has them, inherited from both her father and her great-grandmother, who once was told (perplexingly) that they looked exactly like the eyes of a St. Bernard.